Reactions to Natural Disasters in Morocco and Libya: Contrasting Emergency Responses and The Factors Behind Them
Image: Grocers stall selling fresh fruit and vegetables in the Marrakech Medina souk market before the September 8th earthquake.
Published on October 4, 2023
In just a few days, two major natural disasters struck the African continent, impacting hundreds of thousands of lives. Morocco experienced a devastating 6.8-magnitude earthquake on September 8th, causing significant casualties and structural damage, while eastern Libya was hit by Mediterranean Storm Daniel, leading to widespread flooding, tragic loss of life, and the displacement of thousands.
While Morocco and Libya share geographical proximity, with just a 2,000km separation across Algeria, the stark differences in their circumstances have significantly shaped their respective responses. Understanding the factors that influence disaster responses and their effects on aid is crucial for maximizing the effectiveness of your donations. When you partner with CAF America, you can have confidence in our expertise in taking these variables into account when deciding where to allocate funding for disaster relief efforts.
In the upcoming sections, we explore the factors that influence disaster response, which we carefully consider when recommending organizations for your support. We'll also discuss how these factors impact the effectiveness of donation-based aid in Morocco and Libya.
Early Warning & Preparedness
Morocco Earthquake: While many regions along tectonic faults (such as Morocco’s coast) are used to experiencing regular earthquakes and can prepare for them, the High Atlas mountains do not often experience shocks of this magnitude. This earthquake caught the region off guard, compounding the absence of initial support in the early days following the aftermath.
Libya Flooding: By comparison, Derna had advance warning of the storm that caused its massive flooding. Unfortunately, the severity of the storm was misread: while Libyan authorities did advise evacuations ahead of Storm Danel, they only expected coastal damage from sea surge and did not anticipate the burst of the two dams south of Derna.
Lessons for Donors: Unexpected natural disasters frequently receive high-profile media coverage and demand immediate response, which can lead to a surge in donations in the immediate aftermath of the disaster. However, there often isn’t the same attention to contributions that support long-term disaster resilience and preparedness efforts in vulnerable regions. These initiatives aim to reduce the impact of future disasters through infrastructure improvements, early warning systems, and community training.
Local Capacity for Aid
Morocco: Disaster teams from the Moroccan Red Crescent quickly responded in the affected provinces, supporting the tens of thousands of survivors. Established organizations such as this one have the existing infrastructure and experience in disaster response to respond effectively, making them a popular choice for donors trying to provide immediate relief.
Libya: Due to ongoing conflict in Libya, many humanitarian aid organizations were already established in the area to provide basic needs assistance to the population. When the flooding occurred, these organizations–like the ICRC–shifted their focus to provide relief in Derna, but coordination issues arose among numerous agencies and volunteers, resulting in logistical challenges and neglected areas. These logistical issues can include delayed air delivery, increased costs, inefficient distribution.
Lessons for Donors: Donors can help immediately after disasters by supporting local aid organizations already established in the area in their immediate expense needs, which skyrocket in the immediate aftermath of a disaster as they set up logistics for response materials (e.g., food, water, shelter). They can also support organizations to work alongside them to ensure efficient and effective aid delivery. Finally, once initial aid is met donors can invest in building the capacity of local aid organizations for future disasters.
Image: A damage building and street in a Moroccan village.
Morocco: The earthquake primarily impacted Marrakesh, but communities in the Atlas Mountains closer to the epicenter faced challenges as they were accessible only via unpaved roads, making emergency services' efforts to provide machinery and supplies difficult.
Libya: Derna faced extensive infrastructure destruction. While much of the preexisting concrete construction—including the dams that eventually failed—might normally have been expected to withstand a storm, maintenance had been neglected since the beginning of Libya’s civil war. In the days after the flood, simply getting from one side of Derna to the other involved an hours-long trip circling outside the city to the south.
Lessons for Donors: Damage to local infrastructure, including roads, ports, and airports, can hinder aid delivery, highlighting the importance of supporting organizations that assist with road clearance and infrastructure reconstruction in Morocco. In the coming weeks, it will also be important for donors to consider giving to organizations that are rebuilding roads, bridges, and housing in the affected areas in Libya.
Politics and Conflict
Morocco: Morocco's earthquake response was led by the Interior Ministry, which received criticism for limiting foreign aid acceptance to only four countries (Spain, the UK, Qatar, and the UAE). Offers from the US, Tunisia, Turkey, Taiwan, and France were declined. Morocco's decision to accept aid from only a few select foreign governments has caused criticism both domestically and internationally.
Libya: Since 2014, Libya endured a civil war involving various armed groups, primarily the Tobruk-based House of Representatives (HOR) and the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord. The city of Derna underwent frequent changes of control between these groups, making it challenging to provide aid. Libya's ongoing civil conflict, political fragmentation, and power struggles create coordination difficulties for disaster relief efforts, further complicated by neglected infrastructure, resource shortages, external militias, and a history of extremism in Derna.
Lessons for Donors: Geopolitical decisions impact donor interest: if donors perceive that governments and larger organizations are taking adequate action, they may feel less compelled to donate directly. However, in cases like Morocco where government responses were considered insufficient, individual donations become even more critical. Furthermore, Libya’s ongoing conflict emphasizes the crucial need for due diligence and organization vetting when donating to Libya, a priority actively addressed by CAF America for the benefit of donors.
Morocco: There are currently no broad US or international sanctions regimes that affect/restrict giving in Morocco. In terms of philanthropy, the usual risk-based anti-money laundering practices apply.
Libya: Unlike in Morocco, there are numerous sanctions regimes that apply to Libya. The United Nations Security Council, UK, EU, and United States have each designated entities with whom trade is restricted. Notably, US sanctions—stemming from a mix of executive orders and legislation—prohibit sending funds to entities or individuals who have been identified as obstructing the political transition to the current Tripoli-based government. Though the regulations allow humanitarian aid and disaster relief through NGOs, they still require funders to avoid sending aid to any blocked persons of whom they have “knowledge or reason to know”.
Lessons for Donors: Although there are no sanctions regimes affecting giving in Morocco, like elsewhere, donors should take a risk-based approach to due diligence when granting to the region. In Libya, because Derna and eastern Libya are under the control of the opposing Tobruk government, aid providers should conduct extra due diligence to ensure aid does not flow along any sanctioned pathways. Such measures are also relevant given the presence of designated terrorist groups in Libya: separate from its Libya-specific sanctions, the United States criminal code also outlaws any “material support” to terrorist groups, be they designated or not.
Different Disasters, Unequal Responses
Morocco Has Received More Aid Overall Than Libya
Overall, Morocco has received higher levels of international donor support than Libya due to variances in early warnings, local aid capabilities, infrastructure, and political tensions, which have distinctly influenced emergency responses.
Better-maintained infrastructure in certain areas of Morocco made it easier for US donors to support victims of the earthquakes compared to people impacted by the flooding in Libya. Furthermore, Morocco received more news coverage and media attention than Libya’s disaster. While both disasters continue to be covered by major news outlets, there are very few foreign journalists in Libya compared to Morocco, adding to the decreased coverage of the aftermath of the flooding. Safety concerns, challenges in access and visa acquisition due to political instability, and the deteriorating infrastructure have hindered reporters from covering the region, even prior to the occurrence of the flooding.
How Can I Best Help in Libya?
While CAF America typically advocates for supporting local initiatives, due to these challenges the crisis in Libya presents a unique case where this approach may not be the most effective. Given these circumstances, when donating to support people in Libya donors may want to consider supporting international non-governmental organizations (INGOs) over more local organizations, which may struggle to comply with US regulations. INGOs may have better capabilities for rapid response, and certain INGOs with a long-term presence have gained experience in the local context and possess the necessary infrastructure and resources to ensure a timely and adequate response to the flooding. Intentional, long-term support for qualified Libyan organizations remains important, and is appropriate to consider once initial needs have been met.
Recognizing what factors affect disaster responses and how they impact aid is essential for maximizing the impact of your donation. When you work with CAF America, you can trust our expertise in considering these variables when making funding decisions for disaster responses.
As an organization committed to enabling cross-border charitable giving, CAF America stands ready to assist US donors wanting to support the ongoing relief efforts. Please reach out to us if there is anything we can do to assist you: firstname.lastname@example.org or 202-793-2232.
About the author
Margot Cunningham serves as CAF America’s Officer of Marketing and Communications. Her responsibilities include planning, creating, and implementing marketing and communications strategies, with a focus on building awareness of our mission and engaging prospects and donors with long-form content and event opportunities.